“This Fucking French cinema,” says a character in Andalucia, the first of two French films showing at the European Film Festival. Going by the puzzled silence greeting the closing credits, it is perhaps a sentiment that a significant portion of the audience shared.
The brochure for the European Film Festival had advertised the Alain Gomis movie as comedy drama in what is surely the grotesquerie of the year. Undoubtedly, there are funny bits and some witty dialogue; but what Andalucia is, is a series of scenes following a good natured man, Yacine, as he roams some remote part of Paris not the usual glossy areas cinema has gorged on for decades. We never really get a full picture of who this man is, rather his life is presented to us in episodes with emphasis on his state of mind and the people he encounters, all of whom seem to present an idea, a notion that might cast some light on his personality.
The audience’s frustration might stem from the lack of a conventional narrative structure, Gomis instead presents a film with a structure that closely resembles the stream of consciousness technique as used by writers such as Virginia Woolf. Cinematically, this puts the viewer in a state of mind mirroring Yacine’s who searches for identity as a displaced person seeking his own space in the world. It is not difficult to see why: Yacine (who walks around with perplexity etched on his face) is of Arabian descent living in France, he is estranged from his parents, his childhood friends look at him with mistrust and he is unable to hold down a job. He finds a kinship with homeless people as he himself lives in a trailer and on some nights listens to a street sage who spews incandescent philosophies but finally admits to have been an inmate at a psychiatric hospital, at which stage it is possible to imagine Yacine perhaps contemplating that as his fate.
On another night, he meets a woman who points up to an apartment and says solemnly, “that’s my place.” That encounter, with a person who appears to know where she belongs, inspires him and leads him to a place where camera trickery seems to suggest a spiritual transformation.
Andalucia is not suspenseful, at least not in the generic sense; it is not colourful and the pace is somewhat sordid- a few yawns could be heard in the hall. But what it sets out to do- give us an insight into the mind of a person looking for his identity and his place in the world, it does successfully and on several levels. In a scene of beauty and simplicity, Yacine asks his panel beater father, “Do you like your work?” “I like my work. It’s what I do best,” is the reply. Such brevity. Such beauty.
Yacine likes football. And in one scene describes a Pele special. There is enough beauty in his description to make the late David Foster Wallace, who wrote a memorable piece on Federer’s tennis artistry, envious. It is a scene that should connect with soccer crazy Nigerians.
The most incredible thing about that Pele move? It was a miss. But the beauty, vision and bravery rise above any misgiving. Thankfully, Andalucia has all three qualities.